Families resort to desperate measures as they struggle to feed their other children amid economic collapse
The little girl hesitates as she is led from her home and tries to pull away to stay with her family.
The white-bearded man who has just bought her takes her arm and insists she follow him to his waiting car.
He has paid the poverty-stricken parents £1,600 ($2,200) for their nine-year-old daughter, Parwana, and she now belongs to him.
Earlier her heartbroken father had given his reluctant permission. “This is your bride,” he told the man. “Please take care of her – you are responsible for her now, please don’t beat her.”
Such harrowing scenes, filmed by CNN last month in rural Afghanistan, are feared to be being played out again and again as destitute families are forced to sell their daughters just so remaining family members can eat.
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has deepened an economic collapse which the United Nations has warned could soon leave 97 per cent of the population below the poverty line.
Afghans face a “tsunami of destitution” and need $200m a month in aid to stave off starvation and catastrophe after the Taliban takeover, the UN warned last week.
Large numbers of Afghan civilians risk dying in the coming months as the country is caught in a stand-off between its new Taliban rulers and the nations that once bankrolled the ousted government.
“Day by day, the numbers are increasing of families selling their children,” said Mohammad Naiem Nazem, a human rights activist in Badghis. “Lack of food, lack of work, the families feel they have to do this.”
Drought, war, the Covid pandemic and now the collapse of the Afghan economy have tipped millions of Afghans into desperate poverty and there are fears many will face starvation this winter.
Abdul Malik, said he had little choice other than to sell his daughter. “We are eight family members,” he told CNN. “I have to sell to keep other family members alive.”
He said he had borrowed money and travelled from his refugee camp in Badghis to the nearby town of Qala-e-Naw to look for work to try to avoid the sale, but without success.
His family have lived in a camp for the displaced for the past four years, surviving on his meagre wages as a labourer and humanitarian aid. But aid has dried up since donors cut funding after the Taliban takeover and the family have nothing, Mr Malik said. He had already sold his daughter’s 12-year-old sister several months ago.
The nine-year-old’s buyer was a 55-year-old man called Qorban. The sale was agreed for a mixture of sheep, land and cash. He said Parwana would be looked after by his wife and treated as one of his own children.
“(Parwana) was cheap, and her father was very poor and he needs money,” Qorban said. “She will be working in my home. I won’t beat her. I will treat her like a family member. I will be kind.”
Campaigners fear that such sales are on the rise.
In neighbouring Ghor province, a father called Ibrahim said he was preparing to sell his 10-year-old daughter Magul to a 70-year-old man to settle family debts.
The family had borrowed £1,600 from a neighbour, but had no way to return the money. He had been dragged to a Taliban jail and threatened with imprisonment unless he repaid the debt. Selling his daughter, called Magul, was his only choice, he said.
“I don’t know what to do,” Ibrahim said. “Even if I don’t give him my daughters, he will take them.”